Archive for the ‘Africa’ category

Donna Gibson: Teaching English in Mombassa

March 9, 2007

Donna Gibson

What made you want to volunteer?

“It makes me feel better about myself. It’s a selfish thing to say, but I really do get a kick out of going out there and helping people.

“When I was seven, I was watching TV and remember seeing one of those adverts about famine in Africa and to this day I remember thinking ‘I am going to go there, I am going to help those people’ and then when I got to the age of 40, I just thought, this is my time to do that.”

What did you get out of it?

“I got back from the trip and I was absolutely shattered, but I have a real feel-good feeling. I was teaching English and to see the children learning was an amazing experience.”

What was it like in Kenya?

‘Hot, so hot, I don’t sweat much normally but when I was out there I was drenched. There was very different food, but I tried it all and I lost a bit of weight as well for an added bonus. The people were really nice, and I tried to learn from Swahili. If I died now I’d be glad that I’d seen a country that really is the heart of Africa.”

How was the culture difference?

“Did have lots of down days, as I was traveling all the time out there and then when I go back home I just wasn’t. I couldn’t get used to Kenya time either, I’m used to being very punctual, and I would turn up at 7 AM and then they’d all roll in at 10 AM. They used to turn up smiling and I just wanted to knock their big white teeth out, but then you remember that it’s not impolite there, it’s a big difference. Now I’m back in a more structured society I do miss that relaxed feeling, over there I was in charge of myself and now I’m back I don’t feel like I’ve got that control as much.”

How was the service from i-to-i?

“On a positive note I’d never have heard about the trip if it wasn’t for i-to-i, but when I got there I was paired off with this retired lady, Pam, and she was lovely but you know, she didn’t have much energy, and I’m a very ‘get-up-and-go’ person and she wasn’t. You’re left to your own devices a lot, and that can bore a lot of people, I was okay because I’d prepared and I’m a tough person, but some of the young people needed that guiding hand and that didn’t happen.”

You went back by yourself, not with i-to-i, why?

“I just wasn’t willing to pay for admin, when I knew where I was going and didn’t need their help to go back again. I was thinking ‘what am I paying for?’ so I just went ahead and arranged it myself.”

How did you cope being away from our family?

“My husband was looking after the two boys, so I knew they were safe and that they’d be okay. I got a bit emotional before I went, thinking that this might be the last time I see them, but I knew they’d be okay and so would I.

“My husband has always known it was something I had wanted to do for a long-time now and he works in the Army, so he’s away a lot, so in a way it was my chance to be away for a while.”

What advice would you give to those about to volunteer?

“Really got to have an open mind. I like to think of myself as quite a tough person, but there were these young girls there and they just weren’t ready for such a culture shock. They’d be ill a lot of the time, didn’t want to get involved and often wouldn’t turn up to their placements. You have to go out there with the right attitude, it’s not a holiday and you will find it difficult, but if you can overcome those difficulties then it’s a really rewarding opportunity. I felt sorry for people who didn’t enjoy it, as they’d paid a lot of money, and to them it was a bit of a waste.”

As a solo female traveler, did you feel threatened at all?

‘It can be quite daunting, I remember when I flew from Nairobi to Mombassa, I found it really scary. I got off the plane and these two suited guys took my bags, and then they asked for a tip of about £10, and I just wasn’t prepared to give it. After a while you learn who you can trust and who you can’t, a lot of it is down to instinct.

“Everyday you have people coming up to you and asking for money, but you know that you don’t have enough money to help everyone. You have to be firm, and consistent, if you give to one person in a group you have to give to them all, otherwise they’ll either take it from that person, or get aggressive with you.

“You have to harden yourself for it, I used to be naive, but now I know the score.”

1. I’m 41 on the outside and 21 on the inside!!
2. I live in Hilsborough Northern Ireland.
3. I’m a mum of 2 boys, housewife and employed part-time as a beauty consultant.
4. I travelled to Mombasa, Kenya for 2 weeks in June 2006 and then in Jan
2007 again to the same place for another 2 weeks.
5. I went on my own.
6. When I got there I joined a group of volunteers with an organisation
called i-to-i in June but when I went back in Jan of this year i went on
my own….to save admin costs and i knew where i was going.
7. I taught English at the school and helped with meals at the orphanage.
8. The best bit about travelling was the total freedom as i had never been away from my family before. At home i am always rushing about, there I could take my time. The fact that i was also making a difference in the lives of these children was also amazing.
9. The worst bit about travelling was that as a woman on my own it was a little frightening but i feel more confident now…..and i hated leaving the children i had met.
10. I am already planning to go back in Oct this year as i am at present building a new school for them!!!!


Looking after lion cubs in Zimbabwe

March 6, 2007

Helen Wilderspin




Worked with African Impact, Zimbabwe, from 6th October 2005 – 11th February 2006

Had one week off to travel to Cape Town in January 2006

Had originally planned the trip to be three months, but enjoyed it so much had to extend it to four

48 at the time of the trip

Four main reasons why volunteered:

A desire to volunteer first came after the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, really wanted to just drop everything and go to help those people caught up in it

Made redundant after 28 years, and given six months garden leave

Split up with boyfriend

Youngest child was off to university in September 2004

Went online and researched, found WorldWide Volunteering and asked where to go, what to do, did lots of research

African Impact became my first choice out of a shortlist of 10/12. I emailed them all and they got back to me within 2 hours with lots of information and that just sold it to me.

My placement was looking after wild lion cubs, it was all about rehabilitation of lions into the wild. Spent two months working out in the bush near Victoria Falls and another two months at a game park in Zimbabwe. The lion cubs were aged 3-18 months and it was real hands on work.

Our role was to spend as much time with them as possible, hunting, walking, grooming. I worked with a team of African Impact employees and the rest of the team was almost entirely volunteers.

We were up and working by 8 AM and often didn’t finish until 7 PM, it was just a huge privilege to be working with such beautiful animals, seeing them grow and feeling like I was making a difference.

It made me feel that the everyday life we lead in this country is a bit mundane; in Zimbabwe you see life in a very different way. African Impact take you on visits to schools and villages so that you get to experience what life is like for an ordinary black Zimbabwean.

When you get back you feel that you know you can live life simply if you want to, I learned to think more positively and decided I can never have a full-time job again. You learn how to make the most out of everyday and that money isn’t everything.

My experience doesn’t come close to what other volunteers around the world are doing and helping those in suffering, terminal illness etc, but it gave me such a thrill.

I am still helping out African Impact, I help them with fundraising and I do interviews to promote them and the opportunities they give to people.


If people feel they want to do something then my advice is that they should do it, otherwise they will be forever sitting there and wishing they had done it. Research the trip first, it’s really important that you find out as much as you can before you go.

The big difference with using services such as WorldWide Volunteering is that they are non-profit, if you go through the big ‘volunteer travel’ agencies then you are actually lining pockets and very little money goes to the organisation you’re working for. I knew that all my money was going to African Impact.

Make sure you have sufficient insurance policies for your trip. Mine was difficult to arrange because obviously working with wild animals is not something that many insurance companies want to cover you for! But I found a specialist travel insurance company, if you look hard enough you will find it.

The trip cost me £1,200 for the first month and then £800 a month thereafter. I had to pay for my own flights, but I had the experience of a lifetime and I don’t regret a single penny I spent, even though it can seem like a hefty amount to a lot of people, it’s worth it.

Xmas and New Year

It was the first time I’d been away from my family at Christmas and New Year but it was wonderful. Being out there you don’t get all the hype and build-up that you do back home and we still celebrated Christmas and had a big dinner. However, there was one thing that felt like home, the weather! It was terrible. I expected to be having Christmas in the sunshine but the heavens opened and we were freezing.

Friends and family

Everyone thought it was amazing what I was doing and I set up a blog, at first just for friends and family, but while I was out there and blogging regularly I found that people I hadn’t spoken to for 20 years were reading it. Some people thought I was mental at first for what I was doing, but in the end they all supported me and I feel it’s shown me who my real friends are.